About Stimulant Drugs

Stimulants, or “uppers”, refer to several groups of drugs that act on neurotransmitters in the brain to elevate alertness, awareness, and increase physical activity or energy. The rush of energy caused by stimulants leads to a “crash” once the drug wears off. Some people choose to postpone the crash by using more stimulants. This is an example of stimulant abuse and can easily lead to addiction. Drugs categorized as stimulants include nicotine, caffeine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

Statistics on stimulant addiction:

  • The United States consumes about 85 percent of the world’s methyphenidate (brand name Ritalin)
  • Average per capita use of amphetamine across the United States was 1,060 grams per 100,000 people
  • A 1996 DEA study showed that in Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Indiana, roughly 30-50 percent of adolescents in drug treatment centers reported non-medical use of Ritalin
  • In 2003, 20.8 million Americans aged 12 or older had used prescription stimulants non-medically at least once in their lifetime
  • A National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) study reported that methamphetamine was the most widely used stimulant in the United States (5.2 percent of the population or 12.3 million persons)

Stimulants describe a wide range of drugs from caffeine to methamphetamine. Some stimulants are safe to use in small doses, while others should be avoided at all costs. In a medical setting, amphetamines have successfully been used to treat ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity. When used in appropriate doses, even the most addictive stimulants have proven helpful. However, when abused, stimulant addiction can become have devastating side effects including heart failure, amphetamine psychosis, paranoid thoughts, sleep disorders, and depression.

There are many stimulants that are abused recreationally as street drugs. These include methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy). Stimulants can be addictive when abused to the point that the body becomes physically and psychologically dependent on the drug. This can happen very easily in stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine. These drugs affect the central nervous system and can have an intense addictive hold on the user. Drugs like MDMA are less likely to lead to addiction, but still have the potential to do so.

Stimulants carry some very serious side effects, even if only used short term. While not common, in some cases death can result for an overdose of stimulants. Stimulant overdoses can lead to heart problems, stroke, and convulsions. The potential for serious complications or death increases if stimulants are mixed with other drugs (as they often are). For example, many people like to abuse cocaine and alcohol, producing a dangerous chemical experiment within their bodies. Cocaine is categorized as a stimulant, or “upper”, while alcohol is a depressant, or “downer”. The combination of the two produces a third substance called cocaethylene. This intensifies the euphoric effects making the combination much stronger than just one of the drugs alone. The risk of death increases greatly when drugs are mixed.